Sunday, December 30, 2012

today on board the ship, on the way to Mexico.

Today was an on board day.  Tomorrow is another.  I had an absolutely lovely day, full of wonderful conversations with fascinating people, interesting lectures, and another class I loved teaching.
The day began with meditation with Bhante Sujatha for a few minutes before I had to leave to set up to teach.  I taught Zendoodles II today.  The students have loved learning how to do the different patterns for Zendoodles.  I seem to be known as the Zendoodle lady on board.  When people see me, they show me the designs they’ve done or ask me to teach them new ones.  I enjoy teaching so much and having something to offer others that it makes me very happy when they ask.  It’s especially fun to see people’s joy in their proficiency. 
After my class, I stayed in the classroom to take a writing workshop about Creative Nonfiction for kids.  I’m not overly interested in writing books for kids, but I wanted to hear the lecturer, Rosie McCormick, and hear what she had to say about writing for kids.  She’s a lovely lady, so that was pleasant.
Next was another writing-based lecture, this one with Ying Chang Compenstine.  She was born and raised in China, moved here when she was 23, is married with a 19 year old son, and has published 20 books with two more in the works.  She and her son just finished a book this past summer.  She’s a fascinating woman with many stories to tell about her homeland and about food – she describes herself as obsessed with food and in love with China, so she combines both in her books.  She writes children books, cook books, and memoirs, all three.  It’s been interesting hearing about her life.  She wrote one book that particularly interests me called Revolution is not a Dinner Party about her childhood growing up in China during the cultural revolution. 
Lunch was a lovely affair with Gerlinde and Jim and Adrienne, a couple from CA with whom we traveled to Leon the other day.  Jim has a very funny sense of humor and loves to tease me.  Adrienne is quieter but equally delightful to be around.  I hung out with them a lot to day and enjoyed them thoroughly.  Extremely nice people with hearts of gold and funny to boot.  What a treat!
I sat in the sun way too long and ended up with my first sunburn.  Maybe some of it will be left when I get back to VA and folks will be able to tell that I was in sunny lands for a time. 
Doug Mack, the travel writer,, was on at 2, so we went to hear him talk about the history of tourism since Roman times.  Doug brought up a lot of points I hadn’t considered or hadn’t had a clue about – like that spreading American tourism was part of the Marshall Plan, promoted to help Europe’s economy after WWII.  And Lyndon Johnson decided to tax American travel to discourage people from traveling to Europe in the 60’s b/c we were having economic difficulties and he wanted to encourage tourists to “see America first.”  By that time, though, apparently, Americans felt like travel was their birthright so they ignored his injunction.  Arthur Frommer’s guidebook, Europe on $5 a Day changed the face of travel because it made travel accessible to a whole new group of people – young people living on a tight budget.  Doug’s book is all about traveling in Europe using his mother’s copy of that book from 1969 just to see what is still there from those days and what it would be like to use it.  I look forward to getting a copy of his book when I get home.  He had many sent to the boat, but they never made it aboard, so I’ll have to be satisfied with knowing the author but not having my copy of the book signed by him.  I’ve enjoyed hearing Doug talk about travel-writing-related things – it’s certainly a topic I hadn’t considered before, but it’s been fun to hear!
At 3:15, Jonathan Murray spoke.  He’s the man who invented Reality TV.  And I listened to him speak, you might ask?!  The woman whose TV doesn’t get any reception and who has never seen a reality TV show??  Yes, the very same!  Gerlinde and I sat with him at dinner the other night, and I completely enjoyed our conversation.  He was a terrific conversationalist and I enjoyed hearing his take on reality TV.  Today he showed part of the Road Rules show which was done onboard the Semester at Sea ship in 1998 (?).  It was interesting seeing what that was like.  They had 6 students they followed as they went to South Africa where they had a black student stay with a family who had been pro-apartheid, and another black student stay in the township to see what that was like.  It was interesting seeing how they put the show together.  I guess I’d watch it now if it were still on.  Jonathan said they’d never be able to do another show like that now b/c reality TV has changed so much- this show was done in the gentler, milder days before people got kicked off shows, etc. – and he said the premise just wouldn’t fly anymore.
This afternoon I planned to go to Bob Atkinson’s writing workshop for the first time since he started the series over, but when I went up to the dining room where his classroom is, I saw his wife Cynthia sitting with Julian Bond and his wife.  I’d been trying to get up my nerve to talk to him the entire trip, so I asked if I could join them.  They were talking about birth order and favoritism and asked me which child I was (the first) and if I was my parents’ favorite.  I told them what I thought, but I won’t share it here in case my siblings read this and have a different opinion or would rather not hear mine!  It’s a tricky topic!
I told Julian about One Billion Rising and asked him if he had any advice for me.  He sounded interested in it and asked how we would know if we get one billion people rising.  Good question.  I hate it when the very first question I get stumps me already – it makes me feel so ignorant or unprepared.  The conversation went on to talking about his experiences in Civil Rights.  It was thrilling talking to him about his life and the activism he was involved in.  I would love to interview him for hours or days and to learn all about his life from start to finish.  I have heard some of that in his lectures on board, but there is certainly much, much more to learn.  He’s had a long and active life.  I felt very glad to have had the opportunity to talk to him and his wife, who is also fascinating.  I’m blown away by the quality of people on this voyage.  Tonight, for instance, there was a passenger talent show.  I wouldn’t say that anyone blew my socks off with his/her talents, though many were good, including an 8 year old girl who has been a professional actress for 2 years and did a monologue from Macbeth!  But one of the men was a fighter pilot during the Bay of Pigs and was an ambassador after his time in the service.  William Webster, the former head of the CIA and FBI was here for a time.  People like that.  It’s pretty darn cool!
I stayed out on the deck all afternoon because the weather was splendid and shady enough.  Around sundown, I went to my cabin and got my pastels so I could draw the sunset.  It was a pretty day and I wanted to record my surroundings.  I also would love to be able to sell some artwork before I leave and wanted to have more options available for folks.  I’d only done 8 before today when I did another 4. I had never drawn the sunset as it was happening.  It happened so quickly, I had to keep switching paper to do a new picture.  It was fun trying to keep up with it.  Several people were watching me draw and were photographing me or videoing me as I was doing it.  Thankfully I didn’t have time to consider that b/c I was so caught up in what I was doing. 
It’s interesting, I’m so used to being around artists when I’m in Richmond, and darn good ones too, that being the on ship and being the only artist I’m aware of, is a strange feeling.  People think of being an artist as something quite strange and special and unusual.  While that might be true (!), I don’t think of artists that way because almost everyone I know is an artist.  Being here where almost no one considers him/herself artistic, has really brought home to me just how blessed I am to have such creative people around me at home. 
After drawing for a while, I joined a couple of men for dinner, Earnest and Zandy (Xandy?).  I’d eaten with them before and enjoyed hearing about their travels and plans for life and love.  Another young man joined us, but I don’t think I’ll be able to remember his name.  He attends Morehouse College and is in his Senior Year.  When the other two left, this man and I stayed and talked for over an hour.  He has applied to join the Peace Corps after graduation and would like to start a non-profit after that to help kids in an after school program or something like that.  I believe he’ll manage to do it.  He is an extraordinary young man.  I got a lot of pleasure out of speaking with him.  He told me when he went to college he had to figure out how to do a lot for himself like fill out the FAFSA (financial aid form for students) and banking stuff, etc.  He said she wants to figure out about mortgages and credit cards, etc.  I told him I’d tell him and proceeded to give him a long lesson in how to buy a house and what’s a good way to use a credit card, etc.  I felt glad to be able to offer him such practical advice.  It’s hard stuff to figure out on ones own.  I was kind of thrilled that he asked. 
SO many fascinating people here!  One after another after another after another…
This evening there was a passenger talent show after a costume parade.  The costume parade was painfully silly – I am just not built to take part in something like that.  I can’t even bring myself to dress up for Halloween.  I just feel so awkward when I try.  It was fascinating seeing these folks taking themselves seriously and dressing like witches and clowns and cows and Crocodile Dundee, etc.  These were adults, not the kids.  I don’t know what motivates a person to dress up in a costume for a costume parade on a cruise.  I really don’t.  It’s not that I find it bad or silly or weird or anything like that – quite – it’s more that it is so foreign to me, I just don’t know what to think about it.  If you’re a person who does dress up for things like this, you’d be doing me a huge favor to help me understand.  It’s an aspect of human behavior which leaves me feeling baffled.
The talent show had some high spots, including a young man from Jamaica who did a beautiful dance and a 9 or 10 year old boy who played the guitar and sang quite well.  A friend of mind, Lynn, did a comedy routine which was very fun to hear.  She told me afterwards that, though she was in my class, she couldn’t make fun of it because it was just too good to find anything to joke about about it.  Flattery will get her everywhere!  It was fun to hear her tell stories and make up jokes about our time together on board.
Speaking of jokes – this afternoon during Doug’s talk, a woman raised her hand to ask a question/tell a story.  She asked if she could tell a joke.  Doug felt a little bit alarmed but when she said it was one her mother told her, he reluctantly agree.  His first instinct was correct.  The woman told a joke about a couple of Japanese tourists in NYC some time after WWII.  They stopped someone on the street to ask where the Brooklyn Bridge was.  The New Yorker looked at them and said, “You can’t find the Brooklyn Bridge, but Pearl Harbor you can find?”
The awkward silence in the room after that was palpable.  It brought home to me the pain people must have felt after Pearl Harbor that such a joke had existed.  It was a fascinating, if horribly awkward, insight into life in the late 40’s.  Doug handled it well, but I think we all felt sorry for the woman who still hurt so much she had to tell the joke.
Well, that’s it for today.  I have to get myself in bed so I can teach again tomorrow.  We’ll be drawing form using fruit.  I had to ask the Field Office to get me some fruit b/c we’re not allowed to smuggle such things out of the dining room!

Good night!

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